Behind the Curtain: Seth Howard, Scenic Designer of “ONCE ON THIS ISLAND”

Seth Howard, Set Designer of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND

We consider ourselves insurmountably fortunate to have the talent of Seth Howard for our ONCE ON THIS ISLAND scenic designs, playing onstage at the Dock Street Theatre this April. Get to know him and his bright, wonderful visions for the show in our interview below:

Share with us your artistic background. How did you get into scenic design?

Like most people in the industry, I started doing theatre in high school by joining the backstage crew. It was there that I fell in love with creating and fabricating set pieces for our shows. After high school I left the theatre world and went to school for mechanical engineering. 3 years in I realized that I wanted to change my major; engineering didn’t feel right for me. Luckily, my love for theatre never died and it just so happened that the college I was attending had an amazing fine arts program. I applied, and after a few rounds of interviews I was admitted into the stage design program at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM)!

What artistic styles do you gravitate towards the most? Why?

I tend to say that my overall design style is very “architectural.” I tend to see large shapes and structures when I’m imaging and sketching up shows. From there I break those large shapes down into individual elements that make up the show. However, I’m still on a personal journey to discover my style – I think this is something that takes designers years to really figure out.

What has inspired you as you design Charleston Stage’s production of Once On This Island?

I’ve been really drawn to the architecture of Haiti at large during my design process for this show. Haiti is full of culture, texture, and diverse styles of structures. It was my goal from the beginning to create a smorgasbord or all the interesting materials and architectural motifs found on the island.

What has come easily as you design the show? Which aspects have proven to be more

The overall idea of creating a market that serves as this communal space for all of the social classes that exist in the story came pretty easy to me. For me, the most challenging aspect was figuring out how to depict the “two different worlds” that occupy the story. I constantly asked myself “How do we visually show the difference between the peasants and the wealthy?” After a while of sitting with my thoughts I finally thought of the idea of using the street art (that is commonly seen on the island) as a way to show the different worlds. As you look at the set you will see that all of the portals that frame the space are covered in graffiti-esque murals where one side shows the homes of the peasants and the other showing the homes of the wealthy.

What are your favorite shows of all time?

I’m a sucker for Wicked! It was the first show that drew me into theatre and more importantly, piqued my interest in set design. But some of my other favorites are Heathers, The Secret Garden, and The Wiz!

Seth Howard (he/him) is a freelance scenic designer based out of Orlando, FL. He has
designed many regional productions and themed experiences across the country and is excited
to join the Charleston Stage team for this production of
Once on This Island. Some of his recent
design credits include
Deathtrap (Constellation Stage and Screen), Jersey Boys (Theatre
Aspen), and
Princess and Frog: The Musical (The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati). He received
his B.F.A. in Stage Design, Props, and Scenic Art from the University of Cincinnati College-
Conservatory of Music (CCM). Check out @sethhowarddesign on Instagram for more.

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